The T-shirt forms the basis to getting dressed every day. This simple garment is such an intuitive piece of clothing that humans have used it – in one form or another – since the dawn of time. Formal mentions of the T-shirt in its current form only date back to the early 19th century. At this time, the T-shirt was an undergarment. The true originality of the T-shirt was that it was one of the first items of slip-on clothing. Miners and dock workers used the garment as the perfect covering for hot environments. From the docks, the T-shirt became a permanent fixture in the life of a sailor. Hence the name of a common round-neck tee is a crewneck T-shirt. The T-shirt has only been popular in its current form since the early-to-mid 20th century but there are so many styles. In this guide to men's T-shirts, we’ll clear up the differences and provide some context for the styles.

Printed men's T-shirts

Not long after the T-shirt entered popular culture in the mid-20th century, brands realised the potential in the garment. The blank front face of the plain T-shirt makes the perfect space for decoration. Patterned T-shirts became the norm, emblazoned with logos, sports team badges, abstract designs and funny quips. The T-shirt became a way to explicitly communicate something through your clothing. In the past, people would have to deduce personality from your style. It could now all be put on the table. Men’s patterned T-shirts are timeless because we can always reinvent and update them to display the zeitgeist. Because of this, vintage patterned T-shirts become highly collectible and fascinating relics of past eras.

When it comes to men’s printed T-shirts, it’s really up to you how far you go. If you want to make an impact, opt for a larger, brighter print. This said, beware that a louder patterned tee can dominate an outfit. If you just want to add a splash of colour to an otherwise plain ensemble, go for a small logo T-shirt. Look to Paul Smith for unwaveringly tasteful yet playful takes on the men’s printed T-shirt or shop Forét for minimal, high-quality logo T-shirts.

Plain T-shirts

There are a few garments in the male wardrobe that should be abundant: underwear, socks, and plain T-shirts. Men’s plain T-shirts are the bread and butter of the modern wardrobe. Long-sleeve plain T-shirts and short-sleeve plain T-shirts are essential starting points for the rest of your style. Beginning life as underwear before breaking into accepted wear, the plain tee has maintained the lightweight comfort that made it so suited for use as underwear, but has come a long way in terms of quality. High-quality plain t-shirts go above the call of duty when it comes to styling: a plain black T-shirt and a plain white tee are invaluable wardrobe fillers.

There is a huge amount of variation within the category of men’s plain T-shirts. The most common iteration of the style is the men’s crewneck T-shirt which features a round neck. This is followed by the V-neckline. Once you’ve decided on the neck shape, think about the cut of your tee. Slim-fit plain T-shirts can add a sharper feel to outfits and suit smarter occasions more than relaxed-fit T-shirts. For a sportier look, choose a raglan sleeve T-shirt. Raglan sleeves are characterised by a seam that runs from the neck to the pit rather than around the shoulder, affording more freedom of movement. For basic plain T-shirts for men, A Day’s March can do no wrong, producing no-nonsense, high-quality plain T-shirts that last. YMC’s collections always boast a unique T-shirt contingent, the British label finds refreshing ways to view the plain T-shirt by using different cuts, materials and colours. Make sure to read our YMC size guide.

Striped men's T-shirts

In 1858, the classic men’s striped T-shirt became the official uniform of the French Navy. Breton stripes are the blue and white horizontal stripes we all recognise. It is said that this design made it easier to see a sailor who had fallen overboard. It took around 50 years before one Coco Chanel began to draw inspiration from the bold stripes of the French Navy uniform, gradually bringing the blue and white striped T-shirt into common rotation.

In the modern day, the basic striped men’s T-shirt is a quick solution to a plain outfit. A black and white striped T-shirt, for example, is a great way to break up the impassable block of a monochromatic black outfit. At OPUMO you’ll find a wide range of men’s striped tees: vertical striped T-shirts, long-sleeve striped T-shirts, multi-coloured striped T-shirts and more. Paul Smith’s new collection of male wardrobe classics will always feature a high-quality cotton striped tee.

Long-sleeve T-shirts

When the temperature drops, the short-sleeve T-shirt can fall a little… short. For increased insulation as well as a welcome change to the regular short-sleeve scenario, opt for a long-sleeve T-shirt. Like the short-sleeve tee, men’s long-sleeve T-shirts became a reality when we split common all-in-one underwear at the waist to give more freedom of movement. The upper part of the newly separated underwear slowly became acceptable to wear as an outer layer.

There’s a slight grey zone around the long-sleeve T-shirt. At what point does it become a men's sweater? Is that determined by the weight of the material? There are no steadfast rules, which works in the favour of the basic long-sleeve tee. Brands like AEANCE use technical materials to offer lightweight, functional long-sleeve T-shirts for exercise while Schnayderman’s long-sleeve T-shirts with pockets are crafted from heavy cotton and are ideal for layering.

Polo Shirts

Similar to the men’s tennis shirt or the men’s golf shirt, the polo shirt for men finds its roots in functional sportswear. Towards the end of the 19th century, the polo shirt was brought back to England from India by the ruling classes who had begun to play polo. The classic men’s polo shirt features a spread collar, short sleeves and a placket neckline with two or three buttons. Since the arrival of the polo shirt in Britain, it has developed to become part of the modern wardrobe. Long-sleeve polo shirts are a common feature now, having been popularised by American prep style.

While the pique polo shirt is still the dominating style, making use of a breathable cotton weave, knitted polos have seen a jump in popularity in recent years thanks to their vintage appeal. Newer developments like zip fastenings have kept the men’s polo shirt alive and kicking. This range in style means that there’s a men’s polo shirt for every look. You can go for a contemporary take or you might feel more comfortable with a retro-inspired wardrobe. Håndværk’s range of premium men’s basics features long-sleeve polo shirts and short-sleeve polo shirts in a range of colours, all crafted from 100% cotton pique. 

Shop all men's T-shirts at OPUMO.

T-shirts solved? Make sure you check out our ultimate guide to men's coats and jackets.